Vernor Vinge on computers, freedom and privacy

Wendy Grossman reports in the Guardian from the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference, describing Vernor Vinge's presentation of his incredible new novel Rainbows End and its relation to Orwellian notions of control. Rainbows End is probably the most mind-blowing work of science fiction I've read all year: it manages to touch on the future of fandom, consensus reality, copyright, DRM, scholarship, aging, generation gaps, and global politics, while telling a technothriller adventure story that I couldn't help but devour. In fact, the excellent plot pissed me off, because it kept me turning the pages so fast I could barely pause to appreciate the wild ideas in Vinge's worldbuilding.
The scenario he describes is the background he researched for Rainbows End. Set in 2025, the characters are surrounded by logical extensions of today's developing technology. Wearable computing is commonplace. Tagging and ubiquitous networked sensors mean you can look at the landscape with your choice of overlay and detail. People send each other silent messages and Google for information within conversations with participants who may be physically present or might be remote projections. One character's projection is hijacked and becomes the front for three people. The owner of another remote intelligence is unknown. Several continents' top intelligence operatives try to solve a smart biological attack that infects a test population with the willingness to obey orders.

Vinge makes two opening assumptions: no grand physical disaster occurs, and today's computing and communications trends continue.

He added a third trend: "The great conspiracy against human freedom." As novelist Doris Lessing has observed, barons on opposite sides of the river don't need to be in cahoots if their interests coincide.

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Jim Baen, sf publisher, has passed away

Jim Baen, publisher of the extraordinary science fiction line Baen Books, has passed away. I loved Baen for his radically sensible approach to electronic publishing: give away electronic editions of books and people will treat them as advertisements to buy more print books.

Jim had a stroke two weeks ago, one that was characterized as "serious." At the time, the people he worked with explained that there were "very detailed emergency plans" left in place by Jim.

Here's author David Drake's obit for Jim.

James Patrick Baen was born October 22, 1943, on the Pennsylvania-New York border, a long way by road or in culture from New York City. He was introduced to SF early through the magazines in a step-uncle's attic, including the November, 1957, issue of Astounding with The Gentle Earth by Christopher Anvil.

The two books Jim most remembered as being formative influences were Fire-Hunter by Jim Kjelgaard and Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C Clarke. The theme of both short novels is that a youth from a decaying culture escapes the trap of accepted wisdom and saves his people despite themselves. This is a fair description of Jim's life in SF: he was always his own man, always a maverick, and very often brilliantly successful because he didn't listen to what other people thought.

For example, the traditional model of electronic publishing required that the works be encrypted. Jim thought that just made it hard for people to read books, the worst mistake a publisher could make.

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Ad from 1936: Make and sell your own Buck Rogers figs

I love this 1936 ad for a make-your-own-Buck-Rogers-figurines kit. The company encourages you to take the kit, make 200 figs per hour, and turn then sell them. Try to imagine a company today with that business model: "Make your own Disney figurines and sell them for real money!"

Get this great outfit! Make toy castings of Buck with his marvelous Disintegrator Pistol . . . Wilma Deering, his faithful Lieutenant . . . and Killer Kane, the arch-criminal of the 25th Century. Paint your castings in bright, lifelike colors. Make all the toys you want. Sell them at a big profit! Millions of people are interested in Buck’s adventures . . . and follow them daily in newspapers and radio. Start your own toy business with this complete outfit. Make real money.


(via Make Blog) Read the rest

Real world Banana Jr 6000 computer from Bloom County

Fritzgutten, a Flickr user, has built this amazing Ubuntu-powered file-server in tribute to the old Bloom County comic strip. The strip featured an occassional appearance by a wise-cracking, waddling Mac-like computer called the Banana Jr 6000; by hacking up and painting a Mac he appears to have faithfully brought it to life.


(via Make Blog) Read the rest

Bicycle-powered blenders

Fueled by the discovery that a Starbucks in Washington has "a bicycle powered blender and the customers make their own drinks," Make Blog's Phil Torrone went bike-blender crazy, pulling together a great post on making and buying bike-powered blenders. Link (Thumbnail from photo at Byerley Bicycle Blender) Read the rest

HOWTO take pix of fireworks

Here's a great step-by-step guide to taking pictures of fireworks, something I've tried to do quite a lot, without any notable success. This'll be handy come Canada Day weekend or July 4.
Focal Length? - One of the hardest parts of photographing fireworks is having your camera trained on the right part of the sky at the right time. This is especially difficult if you’re shooting with a longer focal length and are trying to take more tightly cropped shots. I generally shoot at a wider focal length than a tight one but during a show will try a few tighter shots (I usually use a zoom lens to give me this option) to see if I can get lucky with them. Keep in mind that cropping of your wider shots can always be done later.

Aperture - A common question around photographing fireworks is what aperture to use. Many people think you need a fast lens to get them but in reality it’s quite the opposite as the light that the fireworks emit is quite bright. I find that apertures in the mid to small range tend to work reasonably well and would usually shoot somewhere between f/8 to f/16.

Link (via Make Blog) (Thumbnail from photo credited to Mr Magoo ICU)

Update: Kevin sez, "If you're looking to take more unconventional photos of fireworks, there are a lot of things you can do that will result in amazing effects beyond what a live audience can appreciate. Read the rest

P2P insurer will pay your fines if RIAA sues: $19/year!

David sez, "Apparently, a company in Sweden is offering file-sharing insurance - they'll pay your fines if you're sued by the RIAA. The /. submitter translates the link as follows: 'For a mere 140 SEK ($19 USD) per year, they will pay all your fines and give you a t-shirt if you get convicted for file sharing.'"

I have no idea if these insurers can be trusted with $19/year, but it actually sounds like a pretty plausible business model. If you count up all the file-sharers on the net, and divide it by the all the fines and settlements ever paid to the RIAA, my guess is that it's way less than $19/year, which suggests that you could make a buck (or Kronor) at this. Link (Thanks, David!)

Update: Travis sez, "This article estimates the odds of being sued by the RIAA at 1:1840. This works out to a break-even point of $34960 per lawsuit." Read the rest

Exhaustive primer on making machinima movies

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock, creator of the feature-length machinima film Bloodspell has just posted the first half of a long blow-by-blow primer on making machinima movies. Machinima movies are films that are animated by walking video-game characters through the action, then adding voice-over, effectively using game-engines as cheap-and-cheerful animation programs.
We started creating art assets about January 2004, and we began filming our animatic from those assets in December 2005. We weren't working full-time at that point; however, out of those 12 months, we probably put in the equivalent of six months full-time BloodSpell development.

We created sets using the Aurora editor, which is by far the fastest and easiest way that I've ever been able to put together sets for a film (and I've been making Machinima for nearly a decade, starting in 1997). I can't overstate the practical impact of a tile-based system, which meant that our set editors didn't have to be trained 3D modellers to produce spectacular-looking sets quickly and easily. Instead, the process most resembled a cross between conventional set creation and interior decorating. At one point, working on Arianne's Apartment, we were horrified to hear ourselves saying things like, "Yes, but I'm just not feeling the utility of the space. It's too cold." The male members of the crew had to have a quick conversation about deathmatch and graphics cards to reassure themselves of their masculinity.

Link (Thanks, Hugh!) Read the rest

Coke machine manual

This purports to be the manual for a high-tech Coke machine, the kind with the scrolling LED tickers. I imagine that this is the kind of thing that you could have a lot of dorm/workplace fun with.

If configuration switch 4 is set to "C4 0", when the door is opened, "NONE" or a list of Error codes will show on the display. If configuration switch 4 is set to "C4 1", when the door is opened, "CASH - ####-##.##", "SALE - ####-####", "EROR", or "NONE" will show on the display. The service mode is entered when the door is open and the service switch on the controller is pressed.

The operator can now use the first four select switches to move through the main routine menu.

Select Button 1: Abort/Cancel - will return to previous menu prompt. Select Button 2: Scroll Up - forward in menu. Select Button 3: Scroll Down - backward in menu. Select Button 4: Enter/Save/Clear - Allows you to enter a specific routine, save what you have programmed, or clear the error prompts.

Note: Routines with * are password protected. They can only be viewed and entered after the password is entered at the "PASS" prompt.

80K PDF Link, Coral Cache mirror (via Digg) Read the rest

Punch card curtains

Jeffrey Garman made an ingenious set of window shades from old computer punch cards, a needle, and some thread. From his build notes on Flickr:

We have where I work boxes upon boxes of these prehistoric paper punch-cards. I'm always looking for novel ideas to put them to good use again. Besides being good for blocking out the sun they also make good book marks and table leg stabilizer's... I think the cards I used were 'saved' Fortran programs.


(via MAKE: Blog) Read the rest

Real-world search on GPS cellphones: "digital divining rods"

Snip from a NYT article by John Markoff and Martin Fackler about a new location-based search service for cellphone users in Japan:
If you stand on a street corner in Tokyo today you can point a specialized cellphone at a hotel, a restaurant or a historical monument, and with the press of a button the phone will display information from the Internet describing the object you are looking at. The new service is made possible by the efforts of three Japanese companies and GeoVector, a small American technology firm, and it represents a missing link between cyberspace and the physical world.

The phones combine satellite-based navigation, precise to within 30 feet or less, with an electronic compass to provide a new dimension of orientation. Connect the device to the Internet and it is possible to overlay the point-and-click simplicity of a computer screen on top of the real world.

The technology is being seen first in Japan because emergency regulations there require cellphones by next year to have receivers using the satellite-based Global Positioning System to establish their location.

Link to article. image: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times. Read the rest

Video: Panamanian reggaeton underwear perverts rock out

Well this is one of the weirder things I've seen recently. A gangsta-cosplay music video by a reggaeton group from Panama called BUKKAKE. Dudes dress up in spandex superhero costumes with face-masks, skateboard in parking lots, and rap about bukkake in Spanish. Here is a work-safe link where you can learn more about bukkake, a fetish sex act that originated in Japan but is evidently not unknown in Panama. Link (thanks, Susannah!) Read the rest

Nigerian Letter scammer convinced to carve replica Commodore 64

The 419Eater website chronicles the incredible story of a guy who baits "Nigerian Letter" scammers by telling them he has no time to help them free their dead relatives' seized assets because he is so busy sending out $150,000 scholarships for talented carvings to display in his galleries. He actually convinces a 419 scammer to produce a detailed replica of a Commodore 64 computer with the lure of a big cash payout -- then blows him off with a twist ending worthy of The Big Con.


(via Waxy) Read the rest

Video: HOWTO make a dry ice bomb (this is not safe).

(Disclaimer: BoingBoing does not recommend that anyone but professional cryo/pryotechnics experts try this. "Dry ice bombs" can cause property damage, serious injury, or death. See reader comments after the jump for more detail on dangers). Dry ice, a plastic water bottle, and a good throwing arm are all you need. Link to a homemade instructional video from some dudes in Wyoming Ohio, circa 2003.

Reader comment: Jeff Roberts says,

You need to be very, very careful with dry ice. I spent one week in the hospital with a collasped lung and 4000 stitches, and my then-future wife received 500 of her own. And I wasn't even making a bomb, just playing around with dry ice - capped the lid and didn't unscrew it quickly enough. After a few seconds, the mountain dew glass bottle it was in exploded. It blew out all of the windows on the first floor of our house, and neither of us could hear anything for days. Be very, very careful.
Tom says,
A Georgia Tech student made some last fall and when they were discovered by the Atlanta Police, the police went on national television and called it an act of terrorism! Apparently a janitor found one that hadn't exploded, and it went off in his hands, which resulted in his ears ringing (the press referred to this as an "injury"). Hollot was actually charged with a felony but plead out to two misdemeanor counts with 24 months probation and 100 hours of community service.

Personally, I find it mind boggling that a media circus and a felony prosecution started over something far less dangerous then your typical 4th of July firework, but before your readers go out and build one of these things they might want to take heed that in the "post 9/11 world" the authorities have gone completely nuts.

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Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape

Congrats to BB pal and Techngnosis author Erik Davis and photographer Michael Rauner whose long-anticipated book, The Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape, has just been published by Chronicle Books. It's magnificent. (Previous BB posts related to Visionary State here and here.) The beautifully-designed tome is a textual and visual trip (and it is a trip) to the bizarre, psychedelic, and eclectic spiritual landmarks in the state, from the Blythe geoglyph to Kenneth Arnold's Integratron, from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center to Salvation Mountain, from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to the Manson Family's Barker Ranch hideout. Above is the Unarius Academy of Science, El Cajon, the San Francisco Zen Center, and Swami's, Encinitas. From Erik's introduction:
What if California itself was my tradition, a great polytheistic fusion of transplanted religions, nature mysticism, tools of transport, and creepy cults? What if the restlessness and constant mutation of California’s alternative spiritual scene actually reflected an almost dogmatic insight that reality itself is inherently perspectival? What if the California tradition was like the land itself: a collection of amazing and diverse ecologies, but united by freeways? And so, searching for my rootless roots, I began to research alternative spirituality and religious sectarianism in California, reading deeply, doing interviews, and traveling to unusual sacred sites. I discovered that California’s culture of consciousness exploration is much older than the New Age or hippie flower-power. Less a place of origins than of mutations, California has long been a laboratory of the spirit, a visionary playground at the far margins of the West.
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Hey boys and girls, let's play "cornhole"!

5000 says,
It must be a midwestern thing, but after getting an eVite to an event promising "cornhole for the kids" a friend and I did some research and discovered there's a whole culture of Cornhole, a game of throwing bean bags through a hole in a plywood board. Wikipedia's got an entry on it. But more squirmily fantastic is the language on the Corn Hole fan site
"You've found your new home for Cornhole on the web! is devoted to becoming your source for everything "Cornhole." There is plenty of great information about Cornhole on the web, but this is the one site that puts it all in one place for you!"
At last, free cornhole on the net! I never thought I'd see the day!
Double-anal-entendres aside, the site has a cool "how to make your own cornhole game board" gallery. There are many cornhole enthusiasts who like to party, cornhole-style. Why, here's the American Cornhole Association. Reader comment: Lewis Riley says,
Cornhole is very, very big in Ohio. Here's a link to Carson Palmer's (quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals) cornhole tournament for charity.
Justin says,
here's a couple of places to play cornhole online. NabiscoWorld (linked) has a multiplayer function once you get past the nag screen. Christian Moerlein Brewery also has one here: Link
Alex Macentire says,
Now that I live in Ohio (I'm origionally from Missouri) I'm aware of the "cornhole" craze and I'll be honest every time i hear it I still think of the scene in "Office Space" when Lawrence tells Peter to "Watch your cornhole, buddy".
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Who is the "High Boots" singer?

Spike Priggen of Bedazzled wants to know who the singer in this fun Scopitone video is. Link Read the rest

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